V.C. supervisor at fracking hearing: I implore you: ‘The state has to do something’
By Marianne Ratcliff
Santa Paula News
Published: February 22, 2013
When Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr learned in 2011 from a constituent rancher that the controversial oil-extraction process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was occurring in her district, she asked why it was not addressed in the operator’s drilling permit.
The answer: It is not required.
On Tuesday, she and Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett testified at a five-hour state hearing asking the state to mandate disclosure of the location of all fracked wells, the chemicals used, the source of water used and how the wastewater is handled. The hearing can be viewed online at http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=913. Bennett’s comments start at the 3:22:39 time on the video. Public comment to be included in the official record of the hearing will be accepted by state Sen. Fran Pavley’s office until Feb. 19.
When a well is fracked, sand, chemicals and high volumes of water are blasted deep into the earth to extract oil and natural gas trapped in rock. The well-completion technique has come under increased scrutiny in California as a boom is under way to capture an estimated 15.4 billion barrels of oil in the state’s Monterey shale formation. Santa Paula landowners are among many in Ventura County being propositioned by energy companies to lease mineral rights.
Both supervisors concluded their testimony to the state Senate Joint Natural Resources and Environmental Quality Committees with the same message: Don’t pre-empt local governments’ authority in having a say in hydraulic fracturing in their jurisdictions. As a result of the 2011 fracking complaint, the county of Santa Barbara now includes fracking in its land-use code.
“We are waiting for a county counsel report on what we can and can’t do,” said Bennett the day after the hearing. In December, he and Supervisor John Zaragoza of Oxnard requested County Executive Officer Mike Powers prepare a report on fracking as it pertains to Ventura County, which Bennett said he expects to be completed in March or April.
Texas attorney Bruce Kramer, a land-use, oil, gas and energy scholar, who taught at Texas Tech University School of Law, said at a fracking conference in Santa Barbara on Feb. 8 that local governments have the power to regulate oil and gas and hydraulic fracturing operations in their jurisdictions. In other states, such as New York, several city governments have enacted their own fracking bans and moratoriums.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District, regulating air quality in Southern California, will vote on its own fracking rules in April.
“Ventura County is heavily dependent on local groundwater, both for drinking and agriculture,” Bennett told state senators. As a supervisor, he is also a member of the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency that protects and manages aquifers within several deep groundwater basins underlying the southern portion of Ventura County. Some water wells in the area go down 1,700 feet, he said. “Western Ventura County is almost entirely self-reliant and we’re proud we are living within our watershed,” he said. As Ventura County is the third-largest agricultural county in California, generating $2 billion a year, he said water quality and supply are critical.
Fracking is of particular concern here, Bennett said, because it is the location of some of the oldest wells in the state. One of the first oil wells in California was drilled in Upper Ojai in 1867 by Thomas Bard. Because of “the aging components of these wells,” he said, “fracking requires some special scrutiny as we move forward.”
He said his constituents are concerned about contamination of aquifers, drinking water and agricultural resources, the use of scarce fresh water for fracking operations and the lack of disclosure by the oil and gas industry. “I would offer to you that this is creating a crisis of confidence in government at all levels,” he said. He called for the state to require full disclosure of the location of the wells, fluids used, the water supply and water disposal. “Get it all out there... What do we have to hide?” Later in the hearing, Bennett said to the state Senate panel: “I implore you: The state has to do something.”
The county of Ventura did not have any permit procedures for oil drilling before around the 1940s, so, feasibly, there are hundreds of oil wells in Ventura County that county government has no record of, according to Brian Baca, county of Ventura planning manager of commercial and industrial permits. He is knowledgeable about the oil and gas industry, having worked as an exploration geologist for Union Oil Co. from 1980 to 1989.
According to its Web site, the state Department of Conservation/Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, which has an office in Ventura, is the repository for information on most of the wells in the state. Formed in 1915, it is tasked with well permitting and testing; safety inspections; oversight of production and injection projects; environmental lease inspections; idle-well testing; inspecting oilfield tanks, pipelines, and sumps; hazardous and orphan well plugging and abandonment contracts; and subsidence monitoring.
On Dec. 18, DOGGR released discussion draft regulations, which are a precursor to a formal rulemaking process on fracking that is scheduled for later this year.
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, whose 19th District covers Santa Paula, Fillmore, Piru, Ventura Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Camarillo, expressed concern about DOGGR’s oversight of the oil and gas industry since it relies on self-testing, self-reporting and self-monitoring by the oil and gas operators. That was also a concern of Farr, who said, “As we well know, any rule is only as good as the enforcement of it.”
“DOGGR hasn’t regulated fracking in 50 years,” Jackson said. “We haven’t known when and where it’s done.... Fracking is exempted from oversights of other drilling processes.... We don’t know what the brew is, what the chemical combinations are, what their toxicity is, and the industry doesn’t want us to know. They call it trade secrets.... I have grave concerns about what’s happening with the wastewater. What is it doing to our water sources in the first place?” If fracking is increasing, “we need to protect our resources from potential problems associated with it. I’m a little concerned that we’re going to be looking at well operators to self-monitor, to self-test and self-report. How are we going to know the accuracy of that information? How do we protect the public in case they aren’t necessarily using the level of due diligence or, you know, just human error? How are we going to assure that the information we get is accurate and should we allow them to self-monitor or should we find a way to fund DOGGR so that you have the resources you need? Is this something under consideration? If the oil company’s going to frack, they’re going to make a lot of money. Should there be a fee that’s charged so that DOGGR can do the oversight and protect the public interest?”
There is no statewide severance tax on oil and gas production in California.
Jason Marshall, chief deputy director of the state Department of Conservation, answered that its discussion draft regulations released Dec. 18, “envision that the operators need to provide us with the information, which, yes, admittedly, they would be the ones to generate. So, they would be the ones to generate the testing results, say, of the competency of the cement bond. They would be the ones to identify, OK, we’ve modeled the frack. It is going to be this far and double that and now we look around and see if there are wells within that. Division of Oil and Gas engineers would be evaluating that information, but, no, we hadn’t really thought about the idea of having Division of Oil and Gas engineers go out and actually conduct the test of the well casing.”
Jackson responded to Marshall: “You get the information from the company and you evaluate it, so it’s whatever they give you?”
Marshall answered, “Yes.”
Jackson responded: “Is there any way we can be assured that what they’re giving you is accurate information?”
Marshall looked at Tim Kustic, the oil and gas supervisor for the state, seated next to him and asked, “How do we do that now?”
Kustic said: “We’re basically the librarian, the repository for all the information for all the wells in the state. So we have the well records for every well. For example, as proposed in the regulations, they (would) submit to us their review of the wells nearby or structures nearby that might be impacted by the fracture zone. We can poll the nearby wells and make sure that their evaluation jibes with our records to make sure they are one and the same. ... During the testing of the well, and during the frack job itself, we anticipate having our engineers out there to witness the operations. We don’t physically perform the test, but we (would) stand right behind the individual that is, and witness to make sure the test is performed in accordance with good oil-field practices or the regulations, whichever would apply. Post-fracking, they would submit a summary of their actions done and we would evaluate it to make sure it was done in compliance with regulations.”
Some 198,000 oil, gas and geothermal wells have been drilled in California and 88,000 are still in use, according to the DOGGR Web site. It stated that about 3,450 new wells were drilled in California in 2007 and daily oil production that year was 666,000 barrels, putting California fourth among oil-producing states.
Tuesday’s state hearing was chaired by Pavley of Agoura Hills whose 27th District includes Moorpark, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks.
-- To view the Feb. 12, 2013, hearing of the state Senate Joint Natural Resources and Environmental Quality Committees, log on to http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=913. Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett’s comments start at the 3:22:39 time on the video.
-- To view 12 wells in the Ventura County area listed by a Web site managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, log on to http://www.fracfocus.org. This site lists some fracked wells that a few energy companies have voluntarily disclosed.
-- The state discussion draft regulations on fracking are listed on the home page of the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources: http://www.conservation.ca.gov/dog/Pages/Index.aspx
-- To view the Ventura County supervisors’ letters to the entire Board of Supervisors and to state legislators regarding fracking, log on to the supervisors’ Dec. 11, 2012, meeting agenda and scroll to item No. 55 to open up both letters: http://gsa-docushare.countyofventura.org/dscgi/ds.py/View/Collection-1009.
-- To see the video discussion of fracking, item No. 55 on the Dec. 11, 2012, Ventura County Board of Supervisors’ agenda, log on to: http://ventura.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=67&clip_id=3045.